The skin of an animal has many uses ranging from being used for warmth, water containers and even cut up for strapping and handles. You are paying respect to the creature by utilising as much of it as you possibly can. Learning how to skin is a very important skill to have and will serve you in many potential situations for both leisure and survival.
Skinning an animal, no matter what its size is basically the same principle and if you follow the same tips here you will be able to use as much of the skin as is possible.
Firstly, you want to place the animal on either a slope or hang it from a tree. Whilst the animal is still warm, you will want to bleed it. Don’t waste the blood as this can be used in cooking, the blood contains many nutrients that you may need to survive.
Once the animal is bled you will want to begin by ensuring your knife is very sharp. When your knife is sharp use it to remove the testicles (if the kill is a male) and any scent glands that may be present which are usually behind the hind legs. These are important to remove as they can quickly deteriorate the meat. Once these have been removed cut the animal straight down the middle of its underside from its rear to the slit in its throat, be very careful not to lacerate any of the internal organs, especially the bladder or intestines. Also cut a neat line from the middle cut down each of the limbs to the knees.
Now cut around the knees in a complete circle on each leg. Once these preliminary cuts are complete you should be able to start removing the skin from the rear legs of the animal using your fingers. The skin should pull away with little effort, just make sure that the skin rolls outward and doesn’t flip inside as this will spread any remaining blood onto the skin. Continue to remove the skin from the body down the body of the animal towards its head and then remove the skin from the forelegs. If you encounter any trouble spots you can use your knife, but be careful as you want a full hide without punctures as the end result.
There will come a time when the internal organs will begin to “spill” out. When this happens do not worry, it’s just gravity at work, now is the time to cut away any internal organs and entrails you want such as the heart, liver or even the stomach for water storage. Any other offal you don’t want should be discarded by being put in the fire or buried. It helps to have dug a hole at the base of where the carcass is hanging so as to avoid handling any potentially poisonous internal organs. If burying the remains, make sure you do so as deeply as possible as many determined animals will dig surprisingly deep to get at it.
By now you should have a full hide from the animal that has come cleanly off. You will want to begin the process drying the hide, to do so hang it from a branch or over a crafted set up you’ve made. Once the skin is reasonably dry you will want to stretch it and begin curing it. Without proper stretching, the elasticity in the skin will cause it to contract and crinkle which will ruin your hard work. To stretch the skin, tie cord or string to several points around the hide and tie the ends of the cord to branches in a tree, make sure there is a lot of tension on the skin so it stretches properly. Now you can use a dull but flat piece of wood or stone to rub the inside of the skin and remove any bits of meat or flesh and remnant muscle or fibre from the hide. Some people like to rub sand or fine soil onto the skin at this point to help with the curing however this isn’t necessary. If you have rendered any animal fat you could use this on the inside of the skin when the fat is melted so that it helps to strengthen it.
Depending on the size of the hide, its thickness and the environmental conditions, the process will vary in time. By the end you will have a dried and perfectly usable hide that you will be able to utilise for many different sources.